Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Fall 2007


Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 27, No. 4, Fall 2007, pp. 306.


Copyright 2005 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


From St. Louis to Fort Benton, the Missouri River served as a natural highway into the vast North American West. The Life and Times of the Steamboat Red Cloud extends our understanding of the upper Missouri during the decisive period of settlement and trade in the steamboat era from 1859 to the arrival of railroads in the mid- 1880s. This important book views the development of the American and Canadian Rockies from a maritime perspective.

Journalist-historian Joel Overholser earlier emphasized the importance of the Canadian trade to Fort Benton. Corbin develops that theme through the great St. Louis-Fort Benton trading company, I. G. Baker & Company, and its flagship steamer Red Cloud. Mining NorthWest Mounted Police records at the National Archives of Canada, Corbin documents and develops the earlier theories. As the Canadian West opened in the mid-1870s, I. G. Baker & Company gained approval for a bonded line for the shipment of goods from England and eastern Canada to the Northwest Territories as a way to avoid international trade tariffs. Bonded goods, North-West Mounted Police recruits, and Canadian government payrolls were all carried on Baker Line boats to Fort Benton and then freighted over the Whoop-Up Trail into western Canada.

Corbin advances our understanding of the complex relationships within I. G. Baker & Company and the strategies the company employed in competing with other major trading and overland freighting companies on the upper Missouri such as T. C. Power & Brother. These companies "ferociously" pursued contracts against each other and, in the case of I. G. Baker, even between the Fort Benton and St. Louis branches of the same company.